Man smuggling protected orchids in Lego box and My Pillow Pets toy pleads guilty
Victor Manuel Arias Cucho had packed the necessities for his trip last month from Australia to Peru, including a My Pillow Pets plush toy and a Lego box.
But what really mattered was what was inside the children’s items -- more than 200 protected orchids, in violation of an international wildlife treaty.
Cucho pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court on Wednesday to a federal offense of illegal trade in a protected species. The Peruvian national, aware that he couldn’t bring the orchids into the United States or Peru without proper documentation, concealed them in his luggage, according to a news release from the U.S. attorney’s office.
The orchid plants were hidden inside a pillow shaped like a bee, according to photos, a tissue box, a Lego Ninjago box and a plastic tube that stores posters, said Assistant U.S. Atty. Dennis Mitchell of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section.
Cucho had been flying from Australia -- after attending an orchid trade show in Sydney -- to Peru on Sept. 24, when he had the layover at LAX. There, Cucho submitted a customs declaration, in which he denied carrying any plants.
He was then sent by customs authorities to a secondary agricultural inspection, and that’s where his illicit cargo was discovered. The orchids are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
The case against Cucho is the result of an investigation by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen L. Stevenson sentenced Cucho to two years of probation and he was ordered to pay a $7,500 fine.
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